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Historic building reinvestment grants given

(March 21, 2014) Ocean City and other Worcester County localities will receive several grants totaling $300,000 from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development’s Community Legacy program, an initiative to reinvest in historic buildings and areas throughout the state.

The Ocean City Development Corporation won three grants totaling $175,000 for projects aimed at improving downtown Ocean City this year.One $75,000 grant will go toward installing ornamental streetlights on St. Louis Avenue, part of the city’s larger improvement project on the street from 17th Street to North Division Street.

Two grants of $50,000 each will go to the OCDC Business Assistance Program and Façade Improvement Program to help businesses upgrade their interiors and improve the exteriors of older downtown buildings and improve their energy efficiency.

“It’s a great program. It gives local governments a lot of leverage to do what they think is best for the town,” said Glenn Irwin, OCDC executive director. “Each year, we’ve been pretty fortunate to get grant funds from the state.”

The Façade Improvement Project started in 2002, for example, and has helped 147 businesses upgrade their exteriors since. By Irwin’s estimates, that generated about $5 million in private investment and more than 500 jobs, mostly in construction.

To get a grant, business owners must match each public dollar with $2 of their own, he explained.

“So if someone wants to get $5,000 of assistance, they have to complete a project of $15,000 of more,” Irwin said, although the projects average around $35,000. “You start multiplying that by 147, and it starts adding up.”

This property at 10 Eighth Street is one of 147 Ocean City buildings to get a major makeover thanks to the Ocean City Development Corporation’s Façade Improvement Project, which started in 2002. The project earned a $50,000 Community Legacy grant from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development this year to renovate even more downtown properties. (Photos courtesy of the Ocean City Development Corporation)

The OCDC Business Assistance Program started last year with its first $25,000 grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development. The money helps new businesses or those looking to expand make interior improvements. The Greenhouse deli, downtown Dunkin’ Donuts and De Lazy Lizard Brew Pub took advantage of the funds last year.

Like the façade grants, Business Assistance Program grant recipients must match each state dollar with $2, though the 2013 projects contributed much more private funding, Irwin said. “Between all three of those businesses, there were a couple hundred thousand dollars generated.”

With the $50,000 grant this year, between five and 10 new businesses should carry out similar projects, he said.

The St. Louis Avenue project is in its second year, working its way from 17th Street south to North Division Street in three phases. In 2014, the area from 10th Street to Fourth Street is up for repairs and the $75,000 Community Legacy grant will help replace streetlamps, giving the street “a much better pedestrian appearance,” Irwin said.

The goal of the Community Legacy initiative is to provide local governments and community development organizations with funding for projects that strengthen communities, helping to draw new business and encouraging commercial revitalization.

“By supporting dedicated organizations and advocates who are improving their communities in responsible, sustainable ways, we will create jobs, expand opportunities for businesses, enrich local culture, and provide a better quality of life for more Maryland families,” said Lt. Governor Anthony Brown when he announced the Community Legacy awards in Baltimore last week.

Other Worcester County grants this year include $50,000 to the Town of Berlin to continue its Façade & Interior Renovation Program. To date the town has leveraged $175,000 into approximately $450,000 in improvements.

Berlin also received a $20,000 grant to replace its flat visitor center roof with a sloped, energy efficient cover.

Pocomoke received a $45,000 grant to install a new digital movie projection system in the MarVa Theater, and the Town of Snow Hill received a $30,000 grant for its Façade Improvement Program.

In all, Maryland gave out $5.5 million in awards going to 64 projects across the state in 2014.

Only businesses in Ocean City’s historic downtown — the area between the Inlet and 17th Street — are eligible for grants. Now that the 2014 funds are announced, business owners will start applying for assistance, Irwin said.

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